November 23, 2012

ECAC Journal: Colgate putting rebuild talk to bed

By Dan Guttenplan

Colgate figured to be the one team in ECAC Hockey to take a significant step back this season after losing two of the top offensive players in the nation. 

Austin Smith led the nation with 36 goals last season. (Photo: Colgate Athletics/Bob Cornell)

After posting a 19-17-3 record and a fourth-place finish in the ECAC last season, the Raiders graduated Austin Smith, a Hobey Baker finalist who led the nation in goals (36). Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for a rebuilding season, linemate Chris Wagner (Walpole, Mass.) left school after his sophomore season to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. Between the two players, Colgate needed to replace 53 goals. More than that, a transition process that figured to involve Smith passing the torch to Wagner never materialized.

“It was definitely tough losing Chris two years early,” said senior Robbie Bourdon, who leads the Raiders in scoring this season. “We had a lot of great freshmen come in, and we just needed our seniors to step up.”

It appears that has happened for the Raiders (6-6-1 overall, 2-3-1 ECAC). Last week, they knocked off previously unbeaten Dartmouth (5-1-2, 4-1-1), then posted a victory over last year's ECAC Hockey tournament runner-up Harvard (4-3-0, 3-3-0) – all with a freshman goaltender in net.

In a 5-4 victory over Dartmouth Friday night, the Raiders trailed 4-1 in the third period when coach Don Vaughan made a switch in net, replacing veteran Eric Mihalik with Spencer Finney. The freshman blanked Dartmouth the rest of the way, and a hat trick by Bourdon sparked the offense. Finney came back the next night and posted a 1-0 shutout victory over Harvard, making 25 saves.

“Those are two of the best teams in the league we beat,” Bourdon said. “It shows through their records. We played the best we could, and the results favored us. We showed we can be a really tough team to play against.”

In one weekend, Colgate has now repositioned itself in the middle of the pack of ECAC teams, ahead of teams like Yale and Cornell in terms of league points. If the Raiders can carry last weekend's momentum, perhaps the talk of “rebuilding” will end quickly.

“We need to keep the ship moving in the right direction,” Bourdon said. “We have eight freshmen and eight seniors to counter them. We have a lot of inexperience, so we have to keep showing we can be a great team.”

Player of the Week

Spencer Finney, Colgate University
Freshman, Goaltender

Finney posted his first two collegiate wins over the weekend without allowing a goal. He played the third period against previously undefeated Dartmouth and allowed Colgate to erase a three-goal deficit to win 5-4. He returned to the net Saturday in his third start and stopped 25 shots to earn his first-career shutout against Harvard.

Game of the Week

Darmouth at Boston College
Nov. 24 (7 p.m.) at Conte Forum

The Big Green and Eagles are two of four one-loss teams in the country, along with Denver and UNH. There are no unbeaten teams remaining.

Power Rankings

1. Union (6-2-1, 3-1-0): Through nine games this season, Union has scored four or more goals in six games this season and has received great depth in scoring with contributions from 14 different goal-scorers.

2. Quinnipiac (8-3-1, 4-0-0): The Bobcats have won five in a row – the last three of which came on the road. No other team is perfect in league play.

3. Dartmouth (5-1-2, 4-1-1): The Big Green only earned one point in a road set at Colgate and Cornell last weekend. Could they have had this week's tilt at Boston College on their minds?

4. Harvard (4-3-0, 3-3-0): After earning 11 ties in 35 games last season, the Crimson have yet to tie in seven contests this season.

5. Cornell (3-3-2, 1-3-2): Here's a stat I didn't expect to write this season: The Big Red are winless in their last five games.

6. Colgate (6-6-1, 2-3-1): The Raiders are saying all the right things about having two strong goaltenders, but Spencer Finney has to have secured the job for now.

7. Princeton (2-3-1, 2-1-1): The Tigers had some goaltending issues Saturday night in a 7-2 loss to Clarkson. Mike Condon allowed seven goals on 20 shots.

8. Clarkson (2-5-4, 2-1-1): I'm still not convinced Clarkson has enough scoring punch even after a seven-goal performance against Princeton Saturday night. But seeing the puck hit the net seven times never hurts.

9. Yale (3-2-1, 2-2-0): The Elis have a weekend set at Denver and at Colorado College. They'll be thrilled to escape with two points.

10. St. Lawrence (5-3-2, 0-2-2): The Saints have represented the ECAC well out of conference, by posting a 2-0 record against Hockey East team. They have not faired as well in conference.

11. Brown (2-3-2, 0-2-2): The Bears will not play another league play until December, so it will be difficult to gauge their standing in the ECAC until then.

12. RPI (3-5-2, 0-4-0): The Engineers will have this weekend off after sweeping Mercyhurst last weekend.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @thx4playing.